I posted a Facebook status the other day, suggesting that ICE roundups have a lot in common with pre-war Nazi activity. I was referring to the practice of seeking out undocumented residents and putting them into detention facilities with no charges, no explanation, and no clear plan forward. Boy, I triggered some people. I haven't even found time to read all the comments, let alone respond. The post, very specific I thought, started conversation about the entire border crisis, immigration reform, political infighting, human decency and lack of it, prison and detention center conditions, and a lot more.
That's my main gripe about Facebook -- there's no sorting or moderating to keep a debate on a specific track. That's OK. I love social media for the access to volunteers and food recovery it provides, and Facebook is among the best.
The point, though, wasn't national policy or political idealism or immigrants themselves. It's the issue of taking action without respect for the problem it's trying to solve and without a long-term goal. I understand the rationale for deporting criminals who don't have legal status. If it were that simple, I'm all in. But with the current border crisis, wouldn't ICE's resources be better spent trying to accommodate and sort out all the people clamoring at the gates?
Here's the thing -- undocumented immigrants who commit violent crimes should be deported rather than tried in the US justice system. It just makes sense to save taxpayers the cost of prosecuting and detaining those trouble-makers. But a majority of the arrests in my area have been folks who failed to appear at a hearing. Of course we want immigrants to get to their hearings and proceed through the steps of acquiring legal status, but isn't tracking them down and deporting them a little too extreme? Many of them don't speak English or don't understand the process or don't have access to transportation or mail or a calendar. Failure to appear at a hearing is an honest mistake, not a violent crime, and not, in my opinion, deportation-worthy.
Because the detention system is so overloaded, partly due to the increase of arrests because of the political climate, people are locked up in unsafe, unhealthy, and unconstitutional conditions. Crossing the border without documentation is a misdemeanor, not a jail-able offense. Missing a hearing automatically results in an arrest warrant, no matter what the hearing is for/about. Immigrants who don't understand this are being locked up without access to adequate food, water, shelter, medical attention, or even explanation of their circumstances. They are offered no recourse. Often their families have no idea where they are, where they're being sent, or how to contact them. Children being separated from parents and then lost is a whole other problem.
My point, in posting a challenge to protect our neighbors if ICE comes for them, and in comparing that to pre-war Germany, is that the law seems secondary to the politics right now. Human rights violations are rampant. Our ability to meet the basic needs of people we detain is severely lacking, and if we can't keep them humanely, we shouldn't be picking them up in the first place.
Save the prisons and detention centers for violent offenders. Once we get those under control, we can have a conversation about whether crossing the border or missing a hearing warrants the abhorrent conditions of the current facilities.
Susie Snortum is passionate about improving society's compassion for meeting basic human needs -- food, shelter, clean water, and dignity.